Sister Margaret Ann Zinselmeyer has never been one to ask many questions.
Not when the mother superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph came to visit her and offered her a chance to join a community she’d never seen.
Not when an opportunity came to run a day care center for children infected or affected by HIV.
Not even when one of those children, left with no one to care for her, needed a mother to adopt her.
Sister Margaret Ann just followed the instruction of Saint Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline Sisters, to “Act, move, and believe.”
These days, Sister Margaret Ann is busy as assistant executive director of Hope House in Memphis, Tenn., a day care center for children 6 weeks to 6 years who either were born with HIV, or who have a family member with the virus. She’s been there since its inception in 1995, running the day-to-day operation.
For the past five years she’s also acted as mother for an outgoing 6-year-old girl named Adasia, a role that became official on May 22, 2006 when Sister Margaret Ann adopted her.
“She needed to know she was chosen and belonged,” Sister Margaret Ann said.
Those who know Sister Margaret Ann well speak of a dedication beyond what anyone could expect.
“Hope House never would have happened without Sister Margaret Ann,” said her longtime friend, fellow Ursuline Sister Maureen Griner. “She really has had the vision for Hope House.
“Whatever has to be done, she does, from driving the van, to fixing the toilets, to calming parents down, to having a listening ear for the staff,” Sister Maureen said. “She has the heart for it. People in the city equate Hope House with Marge.”
Gayle Hapner teaches the 3-year-old “busy bees” at Hope House. She and Sister Margaret Ann have worked together for more than 10 years.
“She’s the only reason I won’t leave Hope House, unless my husband gets reassigned,” Hapner said. “I’ve never worked with anybody who’s been such a part of her profession that everyone matters to her. I’ll never find that anywhere else,” she said. “This is the best job I’ve ever had.”
Someday running a day care center seemed like a remote possibility for the bright, introverted girl who grew up in St. Louis, where her father was a bank president and her mother a homemaker. She attended Seven Holy Founders School in nearby Affton, which was mostly staffed by Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
“There were 21 (sisters) on staff,” Sister Margaret Ann said. “I went to school there eight years, and I only had two lay teachers, the rest were Ursulines.”
The School Sisters of Notre Dame taught her at Notre Dame High School in St. Louis. Twelve of her classmates joined the School Sisters, but Sister Margaret Ann was the only one who joined the Ursulines.
“I didn’t really know anything about the Ursulines,” she said. “I’d never seen the Motherhouse, I didn’t know what postulants wore or anything about the formation program.”
She credits some of the Ursuline teachers she had with spurring her interest, especially her eighth-grade teacher, Sister Marie Goretti Browning.
“She told me (about my influence) when she came and it thrilled me so much,” said Sister Marie Goretti, who lives at the Motherhouse. “There were a group of girls in that class who had such a wonderful spirit.”
She calls Sister Margaret Ann a joy to be around.
“I lived with her while we were at the Mount, and we worked together some, so after awhile you forget you were her teacher, and we became peers,” Sister Marie Goretti said. “It’s good to see how much she’s accomplished.”
Sister Margaret Ann said she always knew she’d become a sister. “My mother always knew it too,” she said.
During her senior year of high school, Sister Margaret Ann was accepted at Barnes College of Nursing in St. Louis, but had also written a letter to the Ursuline vocations director expressing interest in the congregation.
“Mother Joseph Marian Logsdon was coming through St. Louis and wanted to meet with me,” Sister Margaret Ann said. She told her mother she’d be back in 15 minutes, but her mother was astonished when she returned so quickly.
“I said, ‘Mom, she said I could come.’ I don’t ask many questions.”
During her postulancy year at Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Margaret Ann’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.